A Taste of the Midlands

Yesterday, Wildlands Conservation Trust gathered a group of local environmental NGO’s to meet their American guests.  The group from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) was visiting South Africa to observe the biodiversity stewardship projects they are funding in the Albany-Pondoland-Maputaland Hotspot in action and to meet the people who make this happen.

The Midlands Conservancies Forum was delighted to host the group at The Cairn of Old Kilgobbin in Dargle, knowing that our part of the world is particularly special and certain to impress.  The venue, on a working farm beside the mist-belt forest, was ideal for the occasion.  Dargle Local Living (an initiative of the Dargle Conservancy) took the opportunity to showcase local produce and provided lunch. This ensured that the meal had a very low carbon footprint, appropriate for a gathering of environmentalists.  Everything was grown and produced right in the Dargle Valley – besides the Notties beer.  On such a hot Summer’s day, a couple of additional kilometres were easily forgiven!  Daniel Marnewick and Nick Theron of Birdlife commented that they felt a whole lot better about driving all the way to the Midlands, knowing the low food miles their lunch had produced.

Guests enjoyed homemade lemon cordial and refreshing mint syrup on arrival before settling down to lunch.  The meal consisted of simply prepared vegetables in season – cucumbers, marrows, tomatoes, brinjals, peppers, beans, garlic and potatoes.  Served with local feta and mozzarella cheeses, homemade duck egg mayonnaise, basil pesto, artisan breads, vegan quiche and free range chicken roasted with fresh herbs.

“Delicious” pronounced Patricia Zurita, Executive Director of CEPF.  Peter Thompson added “I was blown away by the amazing lunch. Food like that needs to be savoured very slowly and discussed…”  The table decorations of succulent Hawothia plants were a conversation point too. Dumile Tshingana of Wildlands, explained to curious diners – “they are called umathithibala in Zulu and planted at entrances to discourage unwelcome men and as a protective charm from lightning.”

A few presentations on Midlands Projects followed.  Nikki Brighton introduced the concept of the MCF with glorious photographs of the fauna and flora and scenery of the Midlands (Tanya Smith of EWT was particularly delighted at all the crane photos).  Christina Potgieter represented the Botanical Society, illustrating the important areas they plan to protect under the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.  Peter Thompson from the Game Rangers Association of SA and Jan Phelan of PAMS talked about the new era in conservation, their training programme and many other ideas.

To escape the afternoon heat, everyone headed for the forest at Kilgobbin Cottage, led by Barend Booysen.  This forest walk is one of the most popular on the Midlands Walks calendar.  Knysna loeries flashed red overhead, Samango monkeys clambered in the tree tops, a tiny bright green spider was spotted and everyone savoured the shade and damp earth under the cool canopy. Ren Ito of the World Bank, couldn’t believe his luck. “I have only just moved to this post in environmental matters. I used to spend my time at airforce bases in war zones and inspecting nuclear sites.  This has been wonderful. I am so glad that I finally came back to the real earth, and very much enjoyed joining you all today.”

A cup of tea was just what was needed as the afternoon shadows grew.  Served with delectable chocolate brownies, thick jersey cream (and fresh Cape Gooseberries for Kevin McCann, which Russell Frandsen from CEPF tasted for the first time) – delicious. We thanked CEPF for spending time getting to know our projects and Patricia Zurita thanked everyone for the work they do with such enthusiasm and passion on behalf of the planet.

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